Author Archive

The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating


by Josué Ortega and Philipp Hergovich We used to marry people to which we were somehow connected to: friends of friends, schoolmates, neighbors. Since we were more connected to people similar to us, we were likely to marry someone from our own race. However, online dating has changed this pattern: people who meet online tend to be complete strangers. Given that one-third of modern marriages start online, the authors investigate theoretically, using random graphs and matching theory, the effects of those previously absent ties in the diversity of modern societies. The authors find that when a society benefits from previously absent ties, social integration occurs rapidly, even if the number of partners met online is small. Their findings are consistent with the sharp increase in interracial marriages in the U.S. in the last two decades. Read the full article here.

Decentralized Social Networks Sound Great: Too Bad They’ll Never Work


by Chelsea Barabas, Neha Narula, and Ethan Zuckerman Over the last 13 years, Facebook has evolved from a lifestyle site for college kids into a cornerstone of civic life. It is one of a handful of very large platforms that dominate our online world. As such platforms have gained traction, the web has transformed from an open space for free expression into a corporate-owned gated community of private platforms. The power of giant platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter leads to problems ranging from the threat of government-ordered censorship to more subtle, algorithmic biases in the curation of content users consume. Moreover, as these platforms expand their reach, the ripple effects of exclusion can have serious consequences for people’s personal and professional lives, and users have no clear path to recourse. The platforms that host and inform our networked public sphere are unelected, unaccountable, and often impossible to audit or oversee. In response, there is a growing movement among free speech advocates to create new technology to address these concerns. Early web pioneers like Brewster Kahle have called for ways we might “lock the web open” with code, enabling peer-to-peer interactions in place of mediated private platforms. The idea is to return to ...

Social networks may one day diagnose disease–but at a cost


by Sam Volchenboum The world is becoming one big clinical trial. Humanity is generating streams of data from different sources every second. And this information, continuously flowing from social media, mobile GPS and wifi locations, search history, drugstore rewards cards, wearable devices, and much more, can provide insights into a person’s health and well-being. It’s now entirely conceivable that Facebook or Google—two of the biggest data platforms and predictive engines of our behavior—could tell someone they might have cancer before they even suspect it. Someone complaining about night sweats and weight loss on social media might not know these can be signs of lymphoma, or that their morning joint stiffness and propensity to sunburn could herald lupus. But it’s entirely feasible that bots trolling social network posts could pick up on these clues. Sharing these insights and predictions could save lives and improve health, but there are good reasons why data platforms aren’t doing this today. The question is, then, do the risks outweigh the benefits? Read the full article here.

Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks


by William J. Brady, Julian A. Willis, John T. Tost, Joshua A. Tucker, and Jay J. Van Bavel Political debate concerning moralized issues is increasingly common in online social networks. However, moral psychology has yet to incorporate the study of social networks to investigate processes by which some moral ideas spread more rapidly or broadly than others. Here, we show that the expression of moral emotion is key for the spread of moral and political ideas in online social networks, a process we call “moral contagion.” Using a large sample of social media communications about three polarizing moral/political issues, we observed that the presence of moral-emotional words in messages increased their diffusion by a factor of 20% for each additional word. Furthermore, we found that moral contagion was bounded by group membership; moral-emotional language increased diffusion more strongly within liberal and conservative networks, and less between them. Our results highlight the importance of emotion in the social transmission of moral ideas and also demonstrate the utility of social network methods for studying morality. These findings offer insights into how people are exposed to moral and political ideas through social networks, thus expanding models of social influence and group polarization as people become increasingly ...